Tourism Down At Olympic Sailing Venue

It was billed by organisers as one of the key destinations for the Olympic Games outside of London, with its seaside location sure to attract holidaymakers as well as spectators for the sailing events.

Yet business leaders in Weymouth and Portland have hailed this summer's tourist season as the worst for half a century, as visitors' concerns over traffic congestion and inflated prices appear to have sent them elsewhere.

Weymouth and Portland are playing host to the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events, which are seeing competitors including British medal hopeful Ben Ainslie taking to the water.

But those in the tourist sector are complaining that advance warnings of congestion in the towns, coupled with the cost of parking, have meant visitor numbers are severely down on previous years. Their quest to cash in on the Olympic Games was hardly helped when television cameras broadcast a rain-soaked and wind-battered Weymouth beach during its major moment in the national spotlight, when the Olympic flame arrived in the town on July 12.

John Pearce, owner of award-winning Alf's Traditional Fish and Chip Shop in Weymouth, said this summer's trade had been down by 30% on last summer.

He said: ''We haven't known anything like it. This business has been here since 1955, and this is the worst summer season of the lot.

''We were hoping for a bumper summer but a lot of our regular holiday makers have said they thought Weymouth would be extremely busy, so they have gone elsewhere. Customers say signs on the M3 (the main route from Greater London towards Dorset) with an advanced notice of heavy traffic into Weymouth have made them think about going elsewhere.''

Notices on the website also stress the need to plan journeys in advance. Under the profile of Weymouth, the website, endorsed by London mayor Boris Johnson, states: ''Public transport will be particularly busy before the start and at the end of sessions. If possible, the times to avoid travelling are 10am-1pm and 4-8pm.''

Bob D'Agostino, proprietor of the Riverhouse Inn in Weymouth, said his business does not have a single booking during the next fortnight, during what is traditionally a lucrative and crucial time for accommodation providers in the area.

He said: ''There were a lot of roadworks in the months leading up to the Games, which affected trade, but we accepted it because we were told we would reap the rewards.

''But that couldn't be further from the truth. We are normally booked one month in advance during this time, but there has been so much talk about traffic that people just haven't turned up.''

Weymouth and Portland mayor Margaret Leicester admitted local traders had been hugely disappointed with what was anticipated as an excellent fillip for waning businesses.

She said: ''A lot of work has been done to improve access, and a lot of money spent. But I know much of the trade has been in the beach area, and not spread out to the shops and businesses elsewhere in Weymouth and Portland.

''A lot of the cab drivers are complaining, shops are saying trade is down. It might be that those visitors who are coming just want to enjoy the Olympics, and are not the traditional-style holiday makers we are used to.''

The mayor said the full extent of the summer trade would be debated at the end of the season.